Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tour de Frankfort, Stage 2 - the progress continues

David Morse and I went back to Frankfort on Thursday night, a few hours after the end of the Louisville Bike Summit II. We stayed overnight with friends in Frankfort so we would have only a short trip to get to the Capitol Annex for meetings starting at 8 AM Friday. We met with five legislators and spoke with another by telephone. By the end of the day, our bill (HB 88) had eight cosponsors (up from four last week) including three members of the House Judiciary Committee. For the bill to pass, the Judiciary Committee must take action on the bill and send it to the floor of the House with a favorable report.

In addition to initial sponsor Jim Wayne (Louisville), cosponsors now include Mary Lou Marzian, Tom Burch, Reginald Meeks, and Tom Riner of Louisville Metro, along with Charles Siler (R-Whitley County), David Watkins (D-Henderson), and Kevin Sinnette (D-Ashland).

We met with Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville. He seemed sympathetic to our aims and supportive of giving the bill a hearing, but cautioned us that the committee faces a tremendous workload for the remainder of this short session. He gave us no assurance that he would push HB 88 high enough on the committee's agenda to assure that it would receive a hearing and vote. He was not blowing smoke - over 20 bills face the committee, along with some important matters resulting from the unlawful extension of the 2008 legislative session beyond its deadline set in the Kentucky Constitution.

We are reaching out to HB 88 supporters who live in House District 8 (part of Hopkinsville and parts of Christian and Trigg Counties near the Tennessee border), asking that they contact Rep. Tilley (their Representative) to urge him to post the bill to the Judiciary Committee this week. If hearing from several of his own constituents does not do the trick, we will ask for a broader show of citizen support. Once the bill has a hearing date in the Judiciary Committee, we will ask supporters to write to all Judiciary Committee members who have not already cosponsored the bill.

Each visit to Frankfort includes surprises. As we waited for staffers of House Judiciary Committee members to call us into meetings (several of which never took place), David took advantage of wi-fi access to check the list of cosponsors on the LRC website. Two new cosponsors, whom we had not contacted, appeared on the list - Reginald Meeks of Louisville and Kevin Sinnette of Ashland. We called their offices to schedule meetings with each of them, to thank them for their support and ask their advice on how to move the bill forward. It was Friday afternoon and the House and Senate had adjourned. Most legislators had already headed homeward. Reps. Meeks and Sinnette were not only in their offices, but answered their own phones!

I thanked them both and asked for a few minutes to see them. Rep. Meeks had no time to spare, but told me how to reach him in Louisville on Monday. Rep. Sinnette said he could give us a few minutes. We rushed to his office, shook his hand, and asked how he had taken an interest in HB 88. He replied that he is a cyclist and rides with his hometown club! Developing relationships with individual legislators is a crucial part of lobbying. The work we do this year may not result in passing HB 88, but might lead to even more important lobbying victories in 2010 and beyond. Making a connection with a bicyclist in the House can serve us well in the future, as long as he keeps his seat!

To address a comment on my previous post, passing HB 88 will not automatically usher in a new era of peace and tranquility on the roads of Kentucky. It can, however, help in some important ways:
1) providing an understandable state law on which to base simple statements in driver's ed, traffic school, and public service announcements: driving recklessly and hitting a bicyclist or pedestrian can land you in jail - the law says so right here...

2) providing a basis for prosecution of reckless drivers specifically for hitting pedestrians and bicyclists - not because they were DUI or fled from the scene or had drugs in the car. The resulting news stories will convey that reckless driving is no longer acceptable and that we no longer look at reckless driving crashes as "accidents."

3) giving sincere, concerned police officers an easy way to press charges against reckless, crash-causing drivers in many cases in which they have no easy option now.

4) eliminating an excuse that less-concerned officers may use for not filing charges against reckless drivers for hitting pedestrians and bicyclists.

5) eliminating an excuse that some bicyclists use for their failure to abide by traffic laws - "the law doesn't protect me, so I can't be bothered obeying it."

6) beginning a public dialogue on the traffic laws and how to make them more effective in reducing the carnage on our roads.

7) demonstrating that bicyclists and pedestrians in Kentucky can work together effectively to win changes in state law.

The campaign to pass HB 88 is the beginning of the journey, not the end. It may be easy to dream of laws that will solve huge problems in one fell swoop, but difficult to write them and even more difficult to get them passed! We chose to bite off a small chunk with HB 88 in hopes of winning incremental progress.